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After the the Battle of Culloden in 1746, it was treasonable to support the Stuart claim to the throne. When the ladies and servants had left the room after dinner, the loyal friends of Prince Charles would place the tray on the table and raise their glasses in a toast to his likeness reflected in the cylinder (or in a goblet of claret). If there was a danger of interruption and discovery, the device could quickly be dismantled and the tray would appear as a meaningless blur, or be replaced by a similar decoy tray.
The artist is unknown and there is no record of the portrait’s owners. It was discovered by chance in a London shop by the founders of the Museum and is one of our best known exhibits.
Click on the image above for a larger version. A head and shoulders portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie can be seen reflected at the bottom of the reflective cylinder.